The North Carolina General Assembly, sometimes with the cooperation of the state's governor, is actively working to reverse decades of progress toward the creation of a strong social safety net. Its actions include refusing to extend Medicaid to persons who earn 140% of the federal poverty level, cutting extended unemployment benefits to more than 70,000 North Carolinians, and proposals to revise the state's tax structure radically.
Proposed tax changes include eliminating the corporate income tax, replacing the current progressive personal income tax rates with a flat rate, and extending the state's sales tax to more goods and services, including groceries. Sales taxes are the most regressive type of tax available, affecting the poor and middle class more than the affluent because poor and middle class people inevitably spend a higher percentage of their income on goods and services than do the affluent. The personal income tax is already flatter than I would prefer. Imposing a flat tax moves further in the direction of regressive taxes that fall most heavily on those least able to pay.
In preparing my sermon and then preaching it yesterday, contemporary relevance of Amos' message repeatedly struck me (read the sermon here). Rich and powerful people seeking to become richer and more powerful are nothing new. Instead of using false scales, bad coinage, and other devices popular twenty-eight centuries ago, the rich and powerful today relay upon political contributions, lobbyists, and lawyers for the edge that allows them to maintain or increase their wealth and position. Those methods are just as immoral. As Amos declared in strong, clear language, the idea of God's justice necessarily includes justice between people, not merely an abstract idea of justice between God and a person.
The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and other groups, many religious from a wide variety of traditions, have organized Moral Mondays, weekly protests Monday evenings at the General Assembly of legislative proposals that will make North Carolina a less just society, proposals that benefit the affluent at the expense of the weak and vulnerable. The protests have attracted growing media attention, probably because each week a handful of protesters have been arrested after engaging in non-violent civil disobedience. Unfortunately, the protests do not appear to have altered legislative outcomes. In addition to consciousness raising, the best hope for Moral Mondays to make a difference are in mobilizing the politically disenchanted to get involved, to vote, and to wrest the political process out of the hands of moneyed interests.